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Slave to Whim
Thirty-eight and pregnant for the first (and last, she was sure) time. She was of a slight build; her grandmother had always told her that she looked like a light breeze could carry her away. Teachers had been concerned with her eating habits, but she ate her whole dinner every night, sometimes had seconds and/or dessert, and made no mysterious trips to her house’s one and only bathroom. Her body didn’t like being pregnant. She was always nauseated, and now, at eight months she had to support her belly with her hands, which helped her counterbalance. Just one more month.
“Can you drive?” he asked when he picked me up near London.
I said I could. He talked of hippies and war protestors. He was going to get us, he said. The showdown was coming.
I said he wouldn’t get a shot at me; I’d use a rifle to take his head off five hundred feet away. He wouldn’t even know I was there. If it ever came to it, no way I’d be part of a showdown in the street. That’d just be stupid.
He lit a cigarette. “You know,” he said, offering me one, “I kinda like you.”
She was evil incarnate, this blond little tween who would become model material in just a few years. She and her friend wandered around the store, feeling the materials, jingling the jewelry, smelling the perfumes. “I’ll buy you something for… six dollars,” said the blond suddenly.
The friend, who’d been admiring a bracelet that was marked down to eight on clearance, sighed. She had been there when her friend’s mom had given her the two hundred or more dollars to shop with and told her to be nice, and she knew Blondie had an extra hundred or so—she always did.
June had become a cranky reader. Nothing she read was up to par. The last six books had been far less than enchanting. She’d bookcrossed them immediately with the hopes that someone else would like them more than she had. None of the rest of the books on her TBR pile felt promising either. June felt the need to recalibrate by reading a book that was already familiar and well-loved. The book she really wanted to read, though, was lent from her shelves. All five copies. Well maybe four. She remembered having a fifth, but no idea where it’d gone.
“How’re you liking your new digs?” Tim asked.
“It’s okay,” Emma replied. “Took me forever to figure out where the supermarket is. Still don’t know where the liquor store is.”
“Well, you’ve been there two months; I’m sure you’ll figure it out when you really need it.” He snickered. “Don’t think you’ll be needing any tequila for a while.”
Emma didn’t reply. She hadn’t opened a single bottle she’d brought back from Mexico yet.
“No, but I do know where the library is.”
“Emma, you know you’ll never feel at home anywhere you don’t have a library card.”
The open air marker—vendors selling honey, produce, plants, soaps, crafts, baked goods, and an Indian couple selling some of the best curry I’ve ever had. One woman sells handmade Barbie clothes. They remind me of the dresses at the general store in the town where I grew up (population: 1200). The only phenomenal baked good I’ve had from the market was a piece of lavender shortbread. A few years ago, there was a chocolate maker who sold chocolates with the most interesting fillings—basil cream, masala cream—as well as traditional chocolates like buttercreams, caramels, and chocolate-covered espresso beans. I miss them.
She tugs her fleece throw over her shoulders, wraps her hands tightly around her mug of marshmallowed hot chocolate, slides into her slippers, pads out onto the deck. The chair is cold, not unpleasantly so. The stars overhead number more in one eyeful than she had ever seen in total from the city. And when she focuses on one area, even more appear.
They’d always intended to spend a summer night watching a meteor shower, but it hadn’t happened. And then he died.
Tonight, she’ll spend hours looking into the sky, which she believed to be heaven as a child.
I want to believe her when she says her little brother fell down the stairs all by himself, that the lock hadn’t been fastened completely and he jiggled it loose. But unless she was playing with the lock, which she’s not supposed to do, I know it was fastened properly. I remember locking it this morning, because I had to put down a pile of stuff to do it, and then the pile fell over just as I was about to pick it up again. Morgana has never liked having a little brother. And this wouldn’t be the first time…
People tell me I’m lucky to be in Canada, missing the media coverage of the presidential campaign and the ads.
But we get NBC, ABC, CBS and Fox out of Seattle. We also get a station out of, of all places, Atlanta.
Now the Canadians have decided to hold an election this year, because apparently they can call a new election early. They’re supposed to vote for Prime Minister every five years. From what I understand, they’ve held three elections in the last four years. I’m not sure why. But that’s an awful lot of campaigning to be subjected to.
Now that she’d bought a Dyson, she never felt like she was walking on clean carpets unless she knew the owners of the carpets also used a Dyson. When she’d first swept her carpet with her new vacuum, she hadn’t even gotten halfway across the room before she had to empty the canister. And when she was done, she swept again, slower. She’d emptied the canister a total of three times before she tucked the machine into the closet. Tomorrow she’d sweep the bedrooms. She had to give herself something to look forward to; she couldn’t do it all today.
Carol’s brother dropped by two days before her twins’ second birthday. Three years later he was still sleeping in her basement. He was an ever-present baby-sitter, and he worked and contributed to household expenses, but she worried that he was holing himself up for the long haul—that he’d still be there even after the twins had graduated.
She set him up with a friend of a friend. It took a lot of convincing; her brother had always been a homebody. But they’d only dated for two months before they went away for a weekend together and came back married.
Jake and Adam decided to go hiking and camping the weekend before Jake’s wedding. Jake’s fiancée Janine was spending the weekend at a spa with her bridal party, a gift from her office. (Janine was a law student interning at a law office.)
Though they’d spent many such weekends together, the conversation was awkward and infrequent. They didn’t talk about the upcoming ceremony. Jake wanted reassurance, but was afraid of Adam’s opinion. (Adam thought it was great that they could get checks with “J. Lawson” in the corner. But that was the best he thought of his friend’s impending marriage.)
She’s a forgotten princess, free to do what she wants, until her mother (the most beautiful woman in seven kingdoms) dies. She receives a dog. Bad stuff happens. She flees and survives on a mountain with her dog. She is saved by the Moon Woman, who blocks her memory. When she feels brave enough to leave her refuge, she goes down the mountain into another kingdom. She meets a prince who has puppies to save. They fall in love. But then she remembers who she really is. She runs away again. But not too far. She’s become legend: Moon Woman.
Laundry to do. Boxes to pack. Empty, depressing rooms to clean. And all Marie wants to do is find herself a room-sized box, move a chair and small bookcase and lamp into it, and let her family do the rest of the packing while she breezes through her usually three books a day. Her mother insists it’s time to cull—she’s to donate at least a quarter of her books to charity. She resists, but after moving the fifth box full of books she refuses to get rid of, her arms ache; she’s got shelves more to pack. She starts sorting.
The breeze came off the snow-topped mountains, so even though it was July, the wind was more than a little chilly. Tom sat apart from the rest of the party, watching people. He only knew the hostess, and was known to be shy amongst his collection of friends, so his hostess didn’t push him to socialize with the people she introduced him to. Tom slid into the shelter from the wind the house provided, while making notes to himself about the behaviors and appearances of the other guests. His hostess didn’t suspect he was a writer; that might’ve changed everything.
I passed the fourth sign: Chowder Roo, come home. I knew anyone who saw those signs (Chowder Roo, call me; Chowder Roo, please call; Chowder Roo, please…) would feel sorry for the anonymous person who posted them. They might think I should go home to her. But I recognized the writing—it was her sister’s. She didn’t even make her own signs. And she (Bisquix) wouldn’t change because I’d left for a few days. She might not ever change. I rubbed the bruise on my arm before I turned in at my friend’s driveway. Bisquix wouldn’t know to call her.
The silverware clunked on the lino, the sound distorted and muffled by the plastic container. “I’m fine!” Keith picked up the silverware and tossed it all to the sink. Some of the forks missed. He didn’t pick them up again. Kay came to the doorway. “You can’t hold on to anything. That’s, like, the eighteenth thing you’ve dropped today.”
“I’m just tired. I feel like I haven’t slept in weeks.”
“Babe, you haven’t.” Kay pointed to the tall stack of books he’d read in the last three weeks, trying to read himself to sleep. “Hey, why aren’t those packed yet?”
The cashier spoke in flat tones, though she smiled and asked appropriate questions; only the word order made it clear they were questions. But she seemed distant, like she was having a hard time focusing on her present surroundings or the people she was dealing with. “How are you today, Mrs. Braun,” she said to the woman in front of me.
“Fine, Jeanie. How are you?”
“I’m okay. It’s been four years.”
“Four years, eh?” Mrs. Braun reached out to touch the cashier’s hand. “You’re doing very well, Jeanie. Are you still very angry?”
Jeanie breathed a few times. “Yes.”
We have more spiders around this house than anywhere else I’ve ever been. For weeks my husband’s had to catch two spiders a night (scurrying across the floor, trying not to be noticed) and put them outside, because as much as the big ones creep me out, I don’t like killing them. A little spider spun a very pretty web between the computer monitor and the bag of chocolate chip cookies this morning; I only noticed it when I went to grab a cookie and the spider moved. My favorites are the ones that spin webs between the power lines.
Kim couldn’t figure out why the gym would smell like spicy fries, but it definitely did; she had impeccable olfactory abilities. The corner by the bench presses and mats smelled most strongly, but the scent wafted into the other corners of the little room. She shouldn’t have slept in and skipped breakfast this morning; her mouth was watering, and that just wasn’t right when she was trying to focus on keeping her heartbeat up and remembering to breathe.
Finally, she located the source: a balding middle-aged man who kept returning to the mats after every turn on a weight machine.
On the coffee table:
Two paperbacks, tabbed with Post-It flags
A cosmetic pouch filled with Sharpies of varying colors
A coffee mug, empty, which has been there for a week
Three water bottles, one half-full
A container of toothpicks with a handy distributor lid
Scissors that belong in the drawer in the kitchen
Post-It pads (yellow, pink, purple, orange)
Two Baroque CDs
A digital camera, its case, and a spare battery
A pumice stone/manicure tool
A jam jar full of pens
A phone headset
Four remotes, one to an unknown device
Half a dozen pens, scattered haphazardly
Four hair bands
Neither my tomatoes nor my peppers will turn red. My basil didn’t sprout and though my thyme and sage did, I never actually seem to use them in anything. I should’ve planned better, but I wanted to know what I could grow. The tomato plants I grew from seed never bore fruit (except one tiny cherry-sized, very green tomato), though they did get nice and tall. Next year I may not even have a garden. We haven’t been able to make full payments on our house since I was laid off, and I think we will soon become a statistic.
It’s too private a moment; I shouldn’t be here. She leans into his shoulder. They stand there, arms around each other, whispering to each other, things like, “I’m sorry,” and “I know, me too,” I’m sure. She’s just broken up with him; I assume they’ve known each other a long time, that they’ll run into each other here and there and it’ll be uncomfortable, but not as bad as it could be.
She kissed his cheek, rubbed it in with her thumb. “I’ll miss you,” she said with a sigh.
He nodded. “Me too.” After she left, he started crying.
I am 207 years old. I have been a housewife, a carpenter, a lawyer and later, a Supreme Court judge. Today I am a gardener and parks caretaker. I personally knew Emily Dickinson (who I liked) and Charlie Chaplin (who I preferred on screen). I once owned my favorite publishing company, but no one believes me because I only owned it for two days. I can catch fish with my bare hands by flipping them onto the shore after they forget that I’m not part of the landscape.
But for the life of me, I cannot operate a cellular phone.
The paintings were still lifes with flowers, fruit and pottery. But that was the worst Tammy could say about the room her company had put her up in. Though she was required to attend this conference, she certainly couldn’t complain about the accommodations. She had a queen bed all to herself. (Her last place of employment had actually booked a room for her and her colleague and expected them to share the single queen bed in the room.) There was a Jacuzzi tub, a kitchenette, a bottle of wine ($30), and a shower with a fancy showerhead and six jets.
Nicole watched the girl in green pajamas in the doorway.
“Will he get better?” she asked.
“We hope so, honey. We’re praying.” Nicole let go of her son’s hand and approached the girl. “Where are you supposed to be?”
“Waiting.” She pointed to uncomfortable plastic chairs. “Daddy’s head got hurt. He hasn’t waked up all week.”
Nicole approached the window and watched the woman inside sitting, holding her husband’s unresponsive hand. She stood up suddenly and moved to the hallway, immediately checking for her daughter.
“There are good coma stories, right?” she asked Nicole, who she recognized from the hallway.
The water was white, reflecting the bright cloudy haziness overhead. Though there wasn’t a patch of blue to be seen, the day still required sunglasses. Being on the water only made it worse.
Janine’s sensitive eyes squinted even behind her dark lenses. She hadn’t wanted to go fishing today, but Charlie insisted. He thought it might be the last good day before they moved.
That was also Charlie’s idea. She couldn’t imagine life without the ocean just around the corner. But he’d come home and announced that he’d accepted the promotion. So inland they would go. Her job was mobile.
Amanda stared at the woman. She was being yelled at. Literally, yelled at.
She’d only met the woman once, the first time she’d been called to come over and mow the lawn. She’d been specifically instructed to mow only this side of the hedge, which made sense; hedges were usually indicative of a border.
Today, the woman wanted to know why she never mowed the other side of the hedge. She shrieked at her about how the other side of the hedge was her yard too. And she did her shrieking while the neighbor was on the porch, watering flowers.
She hung the work clothes carefully in the box that was specially designed for this specific task. Those U-Haul box designers were so clever, she thought, and wondered idly whether the kids were making any headway in their task to pack three boxes. Charli, the ultra-organized ten-year-old, had probably packed more than three. Maybe she was even helping Max, who was none too happy about this relocation. Seven-year-old Max was worried that he wouldn’t make friends—he, her little extrovert. Charli, who tended to be shy, seemed almost happy. At any rate, they weren’t screaming at each other for a change.
She loved ferry rides. Fellow town residents found them to be a pain; having to plan all travel around a ferry schedule could be frustrating. And the ferry wasn’t cheap when you needed to get off the island. Fortunately, medical transport was waived.
And still, Judith never lost the thrill of taking a ferry. Maybe it was because she’d grown up in a land-locked province, and maybe because in all her dreams, she’d never thought she’d live on the coast, hadn’t even imagined what this kind of reliance on public transportation that didn’t come every ten minutes must be like.
The Tip Jar